The Heart of any Company is its Employees

Recently at a meeting with colleagues at the American Council on Education, we discussed the College presidency, the average age of college presidents, and how to engage in both succession planning and preparation of a qualified cadre of candidates for future college presidents, or those at least willing to consider the opportunities and challenges of leading an institution of higher education.

working_together_teamwork_jigsaw_puzzleEven though higher education is witnessing a transitional in leadership and re-envisioning its responsiveness to societal needs, as a sector, it is probably not alone. Many industries are undergoing similar transformations, as they experience rapid technological changes, the surge of online transactions, new generations of workers, and global competitors.  One of the obvious questions in the workforce is how do we prepare leaders who will lead multi-generational and diverse workforces in a very digital age, in a range of industries, to meet current and future consumer and societal needs? Without a doubt, there are numerous leadership gurus and perspectives, programs, and adages.

Yet, the core of it is that the heart of any company is its employees. Regardless of rank, education, or generation, employees, for the most part, are the key to innovation, productivity, and perceived value of the company. Employees, for their part, want to be recognized, respected, valued, and informed how their daily activities somehow benefit the well-being of society. Because employees change jobs six or more times in their careers, it is also important for employers to furnish incentives, design collaborative teams, and offer acknowledgements to keep talented employees and to maintain a positive working environment.

Given our current national political divides, creating a cohesive workforce based on shared values could be at least one way to bridge some of our differences and build a more perfect union.

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The Value of Summer Breezes for Life/Work Balance

After we in higher education engage in one, or numerous Commencement ceremonies, and feel a sense of satisfaction that we continue to guide the development of our nation’s intellectual capital, many of our thoughts drift to a summer season of different projects and/or vacations.

As many others in the workforce have experienced, I would surmise, some of the most peaceful and restorative memories of the summer include strolling on the beach enjoying ocean breezes blowing through your hair, being soothed by the relaxing sound of the waves hitting the shore on a beautiful, blue sky day, and/or enjoying the natural beauty of wooded areas—without cellular connections.  After about a week or so of listening to the waves, enjoying the peace of morning kayaking, or moving about without meetings and schedules, if we are lucky, a sense of renewed vitality and creativity emanates throughout our bodies.

Yet, for some reason, many Americans find reasons not to take their vacation days.  Possibly, these workers feel that staying on the job and forgoing vacation days will keep them from falling behind, or possibly that staying physically at the job is a demonstration of loyalty, and therefore, a more direct line to success.  Thus, it does not surprise me that several sources report that Americans take fewer vacation days than Europeans—leaving paid remuneration on the table or lost altogether.  It is hard to imagine that with the increasingly persistent emails, text messages, conference calls, webinars, and videoconferencing (not to mention social media), that the need to disconnect from the work world has not become acknowledged as critical.  Work worlds, moreover, are microcosms that are intricately linked to family worlds, political contexts, stock market performances, and global communities.

So, what is so special about going on vacation?  Well for one thing, some of my psychologists colleagues have convinced me that the 24/7 work worlds that many of us live in produce negative effects on our bodies on both psychological and chemical levels. We need to periodically decompress and allow ourselves to experience some measure of peace without feeling guilty for using vacation days that are usually portrayed as benefits.  It does not take an astute observer to note that there is life beyond work, and that a healthy life/work balance is essential to a productive workforce.

Conversations with colleagues over the years, and observations of colleagues, suggest that there is more than a modicum of chronic stress in our work lives that, if gone unchecked, will take unpleasant tolls on the body’s ability to resist infection, to maintain high energy levels, and to remain healthy enough to perform work at levels that contribute to productivity, innovation, and a desirable work environment.

There have been too many conversations with work colleagues about elevated blood pressure, acid reflux, inability to sleep through the night, memory issues, and a plethora of prescription medications needed to continue to work.  Possibly, middle-aged employees experience these symptoms more than Millennial workers, but it is probably just a matter of matter of time—unless  the work environment changes to encompass a more holistic view of the lives and needs of its human intellectual capital.  Possibly, Millennials can help furnish some leadership in developing a work environment that is both supportive, challenging, and productive.

Until then, we might want to reconsider the value of vacation days!

Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D. (2010), The Importance of Vacations to our Physical and Mental Health, Psychology Today,  (retrieved May 21, 2017).

Natalie Burg (2014), Forbes, Do The Europeans Have it Right?  Do we Need More Time Off to be On at Work? (retrieved May 21, 2017).

Wacky Creativity from Diverse Teams

diverseteamwork

Graphic from Teerath Garg, Pulse, LinkedIn

Once upon a time, in the Milky Way Galaxy, in the Northern Hemisphere, in a time not unlike the present, I participated in a team project that illuminated the value of diverse perspectives in creating new paradigms, discussing solutions, and in ultimately contributing to intellectual capital and economic development in our region. In order to portray this team’s project accurately, it seems appropriate to disclose that this particular teamwork occurred within a very diverse metropolitan population with participants of very diverse backgrounds, intellectual disciplines, and world views—in an institution of higher education.

Admittedly, in the Northern Hemisphere, and probably in the Southern Hemisphere, too, extraordinary illustrations of the value of teamwork are becoming increasingly common in many industries, and among participants globally distant but connected via the Internet. However, I am relating this microcosmos story because I probably know more about it, and working on the team was intellectually stimulating and affirming for future projects.

So, here is what happened. At a small liberal arts college, with the leadership of the president, we decided to encourage the development of a team to compete for grant funds that would help transform the University over the course of five years by enhancing academic degree programs, engaging students more in experiential learning through co-curricular activities, and heightening awareness of career possibilities for students from on-boarding to obtaining professional careers.  Our charge was also to ensure students were gaining appropriate liberal arts exposure and competencies through the college core and then acquiring specialized knowledge in majors, minors, concentrations, and certifications to compete better in professional careers.

Thus, the team’s responsibility was to work closely with faculty, staff, and industry partners to ascertain maximum alignment between liberal arts competencies of the University and those desired in entry-professions—while at the same time strengthening specific academic disciplines. The steering committee that formed to answer this charge was composed partially of persons with specific work functions and those with interest in the project. What was so remarkable about our team of five individuals who formed the steering committee?

Well, for one thing, in terms of variables such as academic disciplines, life experiences, geographical origins, philosophies, and paradigms about solving problems, the five-member steering committee members and their subcommittees brought different lenses to view opportunities.   Possibly, not too unexpectedly, team meetings were characterized by spirited dialogue, wacky creativity, and openness to listening to the perspectives of others.

Agreed upon pathways definitely underscored the team’s diverse philosophical bents, geographical backgrounds, and disciplinary approaches. Measuring progress by empirical analysis was paramount to all members, and the many ways of gathering data were discussed and debated within the team. Participating in each team meeting was stimulating and energizing—unlike some academic committee meetings. Because of the backgrounds of the participants, we were able to expand our individual perspectives and ease pass our comfort zones, to view our opportunities from the combined lenses of a chemist, an exceptional student educator, a mathematician, a seasoned administrator, an external affairs and business community liaison, and a liberal arts/social scientist. At times, it seemed like our perspectives were evolving into 3-dimensional paradigms—with views that encompassed 360 degrees of possibilities, realities, and limitations.

The team project was successful in obtaining grant funds, in heightening awareness of how the University could both enhance its liberal arts curriculum and work with more alignment internally and externally. One major outcome is that the project’s outcomes will augment students’ competencies for competing professionally in a global workplace.

The original steering committee continues to work together, and it has expanded into a larger group of faculty and staff adding to the spirited conversations and stimulating more wacky creativity.

I am just loving it!

Civility, Tolerance, and Building a More Perfect Union Begin in Family Worlds

clipart-american-flag-3-2Reflecting on what just happened, like many other Americans, and some of our global neighbors, there is a lingering anguish that we have passed through some membrane of civility and tolerance on a macro-level.   Even though some historians remind us that vitriolic, political campaigns and muckraking are not new, somehow that does not make anything better.

However, the streaming barrage of media messages and social media dialogues possibly could have reached a new, almost fevered pitch. Some colleagues also caution that the negativity and lack of tolerance in the last presidential campaign could have long, sustaining effects on our collective psyches and American ideal of working towards building a more perfect union.

Thus, reflecting on “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America” might require some actions in our family worlds. Preamble, Constitution of the United States of America

At its core, it can be argued that America is a nation of families and communities based on family worlds laden with intrinsic values and preconceived notions about the good life. So, possibly, it is time to look inward, and reaffirm, that our family worlds are the building blocks of communities and, depending on the family worlds, the more perfect Union of America strengthens or weakens.

Arguably, family worlds evolve within the larger context of streaming consumerism, political affiliations, dueling ideologies, religious beliefs, and assumptions about what is, and how to obtain, the good life. However, it is in the family worlds that adults model behavior for children. It is also in family worlds that discussions about diversity, tolerance, values, and the individual’s responsibility as an American and global citizen are wrought. Family worlds also help developing adults balance consumerism with seeking a sense of purpose in life that is rewarding beyond consumerism, selfies, and collections of stuff.

Another opportunity for extending the building blocks of family worlds are the workplace worlds. Many adults spend a great deal of their time in workplaces. Over the last couple of months, I have counseled several colleagues experiencing microaggressions and tolerance issues in their workplaces. Unfortunately, stress and workforce/life style conflicts are noticeable in too many of our professional lives.  It is hard to imagine that millions of building blocks fraught with intolerance and lack of knowledge can build a more perfect union.

It would seem that in order to build a more perfect Union, the building blocks of America known as family worlds and workplace worlds need our attention. In the workplace, possibly we can measure the economic value of workplace civility, and employ analytics to determine factors that contribute to productivity and increased individual and team satisfaction.

Maybe, there is an App for developing family worlds and workplace worlds that are building blocks for a more perfect union that can be half as popular as Pokemon Go!

Workforce Teams: Coaching to Enhance Team Effectiveness

Working_Together_Teamwork_Jigsaw_Puzzle.jpgGood winning teams have good coaches. Even though coaches are more commonly associated with athletic teams, as we continue to work in teams in the evolving workplace, good coaches are becoming more critical to the success of many organizations. Some organizations’ leaders prefer teams because an appropriately balanced team can bring with it diverse viewpoints to find solutions and identify opportunities. Further, the team, as a whole, can marshal enormous intellectual capital and innovation in a less hierarchical work environment. With clear direction, most teams can accomplish projects more quickly than individuals working alone.

It is not surprising that most organizations tend to equate success with accomplishing strategic goals in very competitive environments. Moreover, it is becoming more and more obvious that success depends not only on institutional leaders, but it also depends on the daily professional practices of individuals in the organization. Oftentimes, it is winning teams that propel an organization into innovative and profitable futures.

Some organizational analysts believe that, in addition to a team’s effectiveness, working in teams improves overall individual effectiveness and satisfaction. Yet working in teams presents challenges in how to appraise and motivate the performance of teams and individual members.  Similar to athletic teams, a winning team might have a range of stars and members who assist—all needed to win. Moreover, with our expanded capacities for connectivity and extending collaborations in global teams and virtual workplaces, the complexities of appraising or coaching teams magnify. So, just how does the team leader or coach do that?

Well, coaching now seems to be a burgeoning profession, complete with psychological and organizational underpinnings. There are certified coaching programs that seek to produce leadership coaches, life coaches, health coaches, and insightful coaches who can employ motivational tools, strategies, interpersonal skills, and maybe a little personal magic, to help individuals push through barriers and achieve desired breakthroughs.

A colleague of mine just informed me that a successful CEO employed a coach for twenty-five years—makes me wonder what I have missed!

From even a brief review of coaching, it becomes clear that a good workplace team coach shares attributes similar to those of an athletic coach developing a winning team. These coaches 1) make sure everyone understands the team strategies and rules, 2) learn the strengths and talents of each team member to determine who should do what, 3) assess the team’s effectiveness, 4) observe the relationships between behaviors of individual team members and the team’s results, 5) furnish specific feedback about performance in a respectful and supportive manner, and 6) offer specific solutions to maximize the effectiveness of each individual team member—with solutions that can be as diverse as the team members.

From coaching vignettes I have read, good coaching seems to combine exceptional interpersonal skills, the ability to establish rapport and trust, and some knowledge of human psychology. For one thing, it is hard to find a description of coaching that does not describe a good coach as someone who listens well, seeks to understand the individual, and offers the support, assistance, and advice needed to succeed. Moreover, the discussion of workplace performance with coaches is portrayed as more mutually respectful, beneficial, and empowering to the individual than are supervisor and subordinate performance appraisal interactions.

Alas, there do not seem to be one-size-fits-all rules for coaching team members because they are individuals, and there are so many nuances in the workplace across regions, generations, and institutional cultures. Moreover, there are ranges of characteristics and work environments in which teams operate.

However, from my readings and feedback from those who have been coached, the coaching profession is just getting started!